This week’s My Camp Echo Lake Journey article comes to us from Stacey Becker Wanicur. Stacey’s journey at CEL ranges from 1988-1997. She was both a camper and staff and has many fond memories of her time and the people who were a part of her experience at CEL. Please enjoy her journey below…
After a bad experience at another sleep-away camp, a family friend recommended that I try this wonderful, warm, down-to-earth place where they don’t let you bring hairdryers or wear make-up. It sounded perfect. I started at Camp Echo Lake back in 1988 as an Upper Junior Girl with feathered bangs, braces and a ton of Kirk Cameron posters. I didn’t know a single person at camp, except for my Big Sister, Hallie Grossman who had been assigned to me and wrote me wonderful letters assuring me that I’d be ok.
When I look back at camp, I describe it as the kind of place you can meet a person sitting next to you at breakfast and then be best friends by dinner. That first morning after the buses dropped us off, I remember walking into my bunk and meeting a blonde girl from New York City whose bed was next to mine. It was Barrie Koegel. At 11 years old and being from Rockland County, NY, I didn’t even know where SoHo was, but that’s where Barrie was from. She instantly became one of my best friends – she was an incredible athlete and loved playing sports just as much as me. She also taught me how to play Rummy 500 and we kept a running tally with scoresheets for the next 4 summers. Cheryl Kramer was our Group Leader that summer and Lauren Ostrin was our cabin specialist along with Helen Risdon, one of my favorite Brits of all time. Other Upper Junior Girls and lifelong friends that I met that summer – Deb Cederbaum, Nicole Berkowitz, Shara Perlman, Erica Medine and Lauren Rothman. I had no idea that although I had arrived alone that summer, I had just hit the jackpot in terms of friendship.
That first year at camp laid the foundation for some of the best summers of my life. I was a camper for 5 years (Junior, 2 years as an Inter, Middle Village and then 4 n’ 4), a CIT in 1994 and then spent 2 years as staff. I was a tennis specialist in 1995 and a Group Leader for the Middle Village Girls in 1997. There were a ton of memories, but my favorites by far were the following:
- Our traveling softball team with Coach Glen Begley. I specifically remember driving around in a van with Shara Perlman, Deb (Cederbaum) Jones, Barrie Koegel and some of the older campers. We took on several different camps and always had a blast. Shara pitched, I played first base and Deb was our utility player. Barrie was shortstop. We were the dream team.
- The tennis program. My love for tennis started with my admiration for Nigel Cheetham, one of the handsome English male tennis instructors. I’d show up for group lessons, sign up for tournaments and any sort of opportunity to be near the courts. But then I realized how much I loved the game. I loved my trips to the USTA Queensbury tournament every year, where I won the 12 and under division 2 years in a row. I loved the annual Point O’ Pines and Echo Lake hosted tournaments. Ana Sawicki and I would often enter the doubles bracket together in addition to the singles bracket. I remember being incredibly nervous before each tournament and tennis staff member Andy Stenson giving me pep talks before each big match. I learned great sportsmanship both on and off the court, how to mentally prepare for points and how to study my opponent to learn where to move the ball.
- Sachem. I loved floor hockey and softball – both watching and playing. I loved the electrifying night of Sachem Basketball. It always felt like I’d have a heart attack watching this game. The score was always kept so close.
- Our counselors. The summer is only as great and creative as our staff members – so Liz Saletan, Margie Cader, Robbie Lazarus, Adam Diamond and Jen Meyer – THANK YOU!
- Canteen. Always a highlight – I loved the games of knockout under the lights, playing ping pong while listening to Madonna and the walk home under a star-filled sky with pine trees all around us. These continue to be some of my most peaceful memories of my childhood.
- Dawn Ewing. The most incredible Girls Camp Head Counselor – her morning line up speeches were like being at a stand-up comedy club. Dawn is one of the most devoted, talented and loving human beings that I’ve ever met. It was an incredible gift to be able to be both a camper and staff member during her time at Echo Lake.
- 4 n’ 4. Hiking the Grand Canyon with Mary Uremovich, watching Melissa Hore get airlifted out by helicopter after a twisted ankle, getting caught in a monsoon while camping outside in Boulder, Colorado, horseback riding for 3 days, riding for 7-8 hours in a van with Dana Matthew Stein, Jarrod Davis, Jen Sklow and demanding Beatles music.
- Trek. I was never a nature girl, but the trek program expanded my outdoor skills like I had never imagined. I hiked everywhere, went caving, once did a 25 mile bike ride with my friends, slept outside under the stars at every opportunity on 4 n 4’ and learned how to put up and take down a tent (though Stacy Basner and I failed miserably at this at Apache Relay in the summer of 1993 and single handedly lost Tribal War for Mohawk – sorry, Adam Pittsburg and Alice Birnbaum – our awesome chieftains! We had a 12 minute lead going in to the tent event down in trek and by the time they declared our tent as “broken,” Mohawk had a 5 minute deficit. Such stress.
- Leading the Iroquois March at Tribal Sing. Lauren Rothman and I led our team to Van Halen’s “Dreams,” (song recommendation by Adam Pittsburg).
- CIT year in general. Friendships made (Heidi Cohen, Amanda Cohen, Lilly Maisel, Melissa Hore)
Staff highlights –
- Being on tennis staff with Dave Resin and Andrew Feifer and playing Jay Varon in a heated match during rest hour.
- French braiding 15 girls’ hair before evening line up.
- Being a tennis specialist and working with Corey Frimmer, the Group Leader of MVG in 1995.
- My MVG West Girls of 1997 – my last year at camp. This group of campers reminded me very much of my own camp friends throughout my time at Echo Lake – that’s you, Jamie Kronenberger, Erica Berkowitz, Valerie Failing, Lauren Schlanger, Amanda Brown, Lauren Zelekowitz, Jenna Livingston, Amy Walker, Joanna Tolin, Samantha Bernstein and a bunch more I’ll never forget. I also had an incredible staff including Becca Soloff and Stacy Basner. How awesome to get to work with one of my former camp friends (Baz!). It was pretty awesome to have Meredith Gertler there that summer too – she was GL for MVGs, East.
- Staff meetings in Friedo’s bunk with Jonathan Wanicur, Meredith Gertler, Josh Varon and Jessica Gruner.
- Days off! Some of the best days of my life – those 36 hours of destressing with my fellow staffers.
- Being a tribal judge – and the opportunity to be the umpire at the Sachem Softball game.
My Camp Echo Lake memories and deep rooted love for this special place, continue with me to this day. I married a former camp friend of mine – Jonathan Wanicur. We had always remained friends and met up at a Project Morry fundraiser after we were both going through recent break ups. I had always had a crush on him and finally got my chance. Jonathan proposed to me on the back porch of the Senior Village Lodge (thanks to some helpful coordination by Tony Stein) on July 4, 2009 and we were married on March 13, 2010. We now have a toddler daughter, Ellie Lila Wanicur, who turned 2 in March.
In addition to Jonathan, my choice of Emory led me to maintain my Echo Lake connections and make news one. I joined Delta Phi Epsilon, where Echo Lake Director, Laurie Rinke, was my New Member Educator. It is no wonder that my freshman pledge experience at Emory was one of my best college experiences yet – I was being led by a complete pro. Laurie now shares my love of The Bachelor, and has befriended my daughter, Ellie, instantly. Corey Frimmer was my “senior mom” at Emory. Other sorority Echo Lakers – Jessica Brodsky and Hillary Poris (who was my CEL Little Sister). Adam Pittsburg was another CEL / Emory crossover – along with Larry Gould.
What I have always loved best about Echo Lake, is the lifelong community that I’ve become a part of over the years. It doesn’t matter if you were sort of friends, never spoke a word, or haven’t seen each other in years. If you run into an Echo Laker, you are instant family. Julie Rappaport and I never spoke a word to each other at camp. We live a few blocks away from each other and became close friends as soon as our babies were born. Now those babies will be attending nursery school together next fall in the same class. Bethany Eppner and Alice Birnbaum have guided us through the insane nursery school process.
Through Jonathan, I get to stay in touch with some other wonderful Echo Lake legends – John Saroff, David Prager, Michael Bogner, Dan Meyer and Andy Finkelstein. I owe so much to Echo Lake – so many of the friends that I have, and the experiences there have shaped who I am today. The Group Sing / Tribal Sing songs that I still know every word to – have provided great material to sing to my daughter.
My recently published book, Knot the One, has a great deal of camp life included in it. You can check it out here and learn more about the story of how Jonathan and I got together: http://www.amazon.com/Knot-One-Getting-Wedding-Happened-ebook/dp/B0153OI1W6
If you want to check in with the Wanicur family – find me on Instagram (@OfficeStace) or check out my blog http://OfficeStace.com